Second Common Core video released as Mass. considers dumping the federal standards

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BOSTON A second undercover video portraying Common Core as an exercise in profiteering by publishers including Boston textbook giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt surfaced Thursday, showing an executive of the company saying such education initiatives are “never about the kids.”

The video, from Project Veritas, a nonprofit journalism outfit that on Tuesday released similarly damning footage, may prompt some remarks by Republican presidential hopefuls during planned debates Thursday night. At least, that appears to be the hope of James O’Keefe, the group’s founder:

The latest video shows a woman, Amelia Petties, identified as a Houghton account executive, saying that education initiatives like Common Core are “never about the kids” and that they present lucrative business opportunities for companies that produce textbooks, training and other curriculum materials.

“There’s always money in it,” Petties says in the video. “And slapping a new name on it, which my my case, I hope they do.”

“Then I can sell a (expletive) ton of training around whatever you’re calling it,” she says.

Petties has worked for Houghton for a little more than a year, according to career networking site LinkedIn, and is responsible for “strategy, project plan and execution of HMH professional development and professional services proposals for the K-12 market.”

A phone number listed for Petties has been disconnected. There was no immediate response to an email sent to her at Houghton.

As with any video, there’s no easy way to tell how much it has been edited or manipulated, or to judge the context of what is being shown.

Dianne Barrow, a Houghton sales executive depicted in the video released Tuesday, told the Washington Post that she was fired the same day, because she had cast a “bad light” on the company. Barrow said the comments she is seen making on the video had been taken out of context and were “completely misconstrued.” For instance, she said, the comment she is seen making that she “hates kids” was a joke.

“The individuals who made these statements are no longer with the company,” the publisher said in a statement released late Thursday. It said it “will not tolerate behavior and conduct that contradicts our values and commitment to learning.”

A conservative whose past exploits brought down ACORN, a taxpayer-supported community activist group, O’Keefe has made it clear in social media posts that he expects people will lose their jobs because of the videos:

“Our videos will continue to expose how the book publishers are all about the money with no regard for the actual needs of our children,” O’Keefe said in a statement posted on the Project Veritas website.

“Corporate cronyism and underhanded political deals have contributed to Common Core’s massive disruption and the unraveling of America’s educational fabric, and it is no longer a secret thanks to our undercover videos.”

“In upcoming videos in this series we will show more abuse of taxpayer dollars and how major textbook publishing companies are enriching themselves at the expense of children,” O’Keefe goes on. Publishers, he added, “will be forced to respond to what’s coming next.”

O’Keefe later hinted about how journalists at Project Veritas manage to gain access to meet-ups with industry executives.

“Pretend to be a lobbyist and you can get access to anyone,” he wrote Thursday afternoon on Twitter.

The video are being released as the Massachusetts legislature considers a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative that would give voters in November a chance to determine whether the state keeps Common Core or reverts to its own pre-Common Core state developed standards.  If the proposed initiative clears all procedural hurdles, voters in November will have an opportunity to decide whether to direct the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to rescind its 2010 vote to adopt Common Core standards for math and English.

Last November, the board voted not to move forward with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the student assessment developed to align with Common Core standards. The board voted instead to implement a new test they are calling MCAS 2.0, a hybrid version of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and PARCC. 

After the vote, several news outlets erroneously reported that Massachusetts had voted to do away with Common Core.  That turns out not to be the case because, although the board rejected the PARCC test, it did not consider what to do about the underlying Common Core standards.  The federal standards, therefore, remain in place after the November vote, and any new test that the state develops to replace PARCC must, necessarily, align with Common Core.

Common Core supporter Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education policy think tank in Washington, confirmed in a blog post that the decision by the Massachusetts board was “essentially a rebranding exercise undertaken for political reasons.”

In December, Donna Colorio, a Worcester School Committee member who is spearheading the campaign to put Common Core on the ballot condemned the board’s action as, essentially a cheap trick to “mollify the movement” to repeal Common Core.  In a statement Colorio said, “We must move forward by rejecting Common Core and returning to what works.”